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Q&A with Rachel McCollin

Web designer and developer from Birmingham

My name is Rachel McCollin. I'm a web designer and developer based in Birmingham, UK and I also write books and articles about web design and development. I've run my own web design agency, Compass Design, since 2010 and I'm currently launching a startup school website builder called Compass EduWeb.

I've always loved writing and when Packt approached me to write my first web design book in 2011 I at first through it was a hoax! But I soon found out it wasn't and I've since had three books published on WordPress - my most recent, and the one I'm most proud of, is WordPress: Pushing the Limits  published by Wiley, which is my first book to find its way into physical bookshops. One day I hope to have a novel published; I've written a political thriller (I used to work in politics) and I'm currently working on the first draft of a children's book with help from my eight year old son.


I have to admit I've been completely sucked into the Apple universe. I have an iMac, a very old white plastic MacBook, two iPads, an iPhone and an apple tv. I use my iMac for writing and web development as the large, high resolution screen means I can have my code and my writing or browser next to each other on the screen and really helps my workflow.

I use my iPad more than my MacBook when I'm out and about - it's great for preparing and delivering presentations as well as for being able to look at websites with clients without having to worry about hooking up to wifi. At home I tend to use the MacBook more as the kids steal the iPads - that is, unless they want to borrow the MacBook to play Minecraft!

My iPhone goes everywhere with me and I use it more as a portable computer than as a phone - I probably make about one call a week, mainly to family. But it's great to be able to keep up to date with my files, email, planning and business details when I'm not at my desk.

Oh, and I also have a Kindle, which I find great for reading while on holiday - we have a campervan and there isn't a lot of spare storage space for books! I do miss being able to share books though - my husband has his own Kindle and I never know what he's reading anymore, let alone getting a chance to pick up books he's finished and vice-versa.


For web development I use TextWrangler and Safari - I know a lot of developers prefer Firefox but I find it too buggy. For cross-browser testing I have most of the big browsers on my iMac (Opera, Firefox and Chrome - Opera is my favourite of these) and I use BrowserStack for testing in IE - although I try to avoid having to do that as much as possible! All of the sites I develop are built on WordPress - I run a few Multisite installations and have also set up many many single site installations for clients.

Much of my writing is done directly in WordPress - I write for Smashing Magazine and WPTutsPlus and write directly into WordPress for both these publications, making use of the full screen editing mode. My books have all been written in Word, but that certainly wasn't my choice - it's what my publishers use. My preferred desktop writing software is Pages - it doesn't crash all the time, unlike Word.

For image manipulation and preparing images for websites I use Photoshop and for creating graphics I use Fireworks. I bought the entire Adobe Creative Suite when I first set up my business but most of it languishes on my Mac and is never used.

For time management, project management and invoicing I use Project Bubble  I decided to move from a desktop-based database I'd built for managing my business when I first set it up to a more flexible web-based one this summer and spent a month road testing all of the popular services. Project Bubble came out top and I find it's made my workflow much more efficient.

I use Dropbox to back up all my files and to share with colleagues and clients, and occasionally use Evernote, although not as much as I used to. I also use GitHub to collaborate with colleagues. And OSX's Time Machine has saved my life on more than one occasion!


I don't have a wish list of specific pieces of software and hardware but for me anything that further integrates my digital life can only be a good thing. I wish the apple tv did more - I see great potential for it as a gaming machine used in conjunction with the iPad but Apple don't seem to have tapped into that.

What I would like however is a more up to date MacBook - when my first set of book royalties come in, I've promised myself a MacBook Air - and then the kids will get the old MacBook as a machine devoted to Minecraft!


Inspiration for my web design and development work comes from a variety of sources. I keep up to date with trends and developments and get inspiration form other developers; I also get a lot of inspiration form clients. I enjoy working with a client to identify the objectives of their site and then working out a solution to help meet those objectives.

Inspiration for my writing comes from ideas sparked by projects I work on and from other writers, as well as from what my publishers ask me to write about!